Long lines at Johnson County driver’s licenses office are absurd. Fix the problem now

Signs turned away people seeking service at the Kansas driver’s license office in Mission recently.
Signs turned away people seeking service at the Kansas driver’s license office in Mission recently. tljungblad@kcstar.com

Long delays at two driver’s license offices in Johnson County are infuriating and unacceptable.

The pictures and stories are galling. Kansans showing up to obtain licenses — a process that should normally take 30 minutes, at the most — end up wasting hours waiting for the state to do its job.

The delays disrupt work and child care schedules, and frustrate customers. Some have stood in line for hours on the sidewalk in the summer heat to comply with the state’s requirement that they carry a license to drive.

Gov. Jeff Colyer, who faces primary voters in less than three weeks, bears the ultimate responsibility for this mess. He should take steps to shorten the lines and make getting a license efficient and convenient.

In the near term, that means telling the Department of Revenue to extend license office hours as needed, including an eight-hour schedule on Saturdays.

On Wednesday, the department said both Johnson County offices would be open on Mondays to ease the crunch. It’s welcome step that should have been taken weeks ago.

A third office is also in the works.

Once the immediate crisis is addressed, Kansas must rethink its approach to issuing driver’s licenses.

Why, for example, are there just two permanent license offices in Johnson County, where roughly 600,000 people live? The state’s website says there are two places to renew your driver’s license in Pottawatomie County, Kan., population 25,000.

Planning is also an issue. Department officials say the delays have been caused in part by the federally-mandated Real ID system, which places an added burden on states to issue compliant licenses. A new check-in system also may be to blame.

But the department should not have been surprised in either case. Real ID and the check-in system have been in place for months. And the summer rush — teenagers getting licenses for the first time — was utterly predictable, too.

Kansas should have been ready for this. And don’t tell residents they should get licenses in other counties with shorter wait times. There’s no reason a Johnson County resident should have to travel to Leavenworth to get a license.

Kansans who wanted to register to vote at the license office also may have been delayed. The state’s advice — go somewhere else to register — was equally unsatisfactory.

Now, of course, the deadline to register for the August primary has passed.

Issuing a driver’s license, or a state-approved photo ID, is a core function of government. Kansas law requires a license to drive and a photo ID to vote. It must provide these essential services with a minimum of difficulty for customers.

You had one job, Kansas, and you messed it up. You should fix the problems now and make sure this never happens again.

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